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Demolition or Refurbishment: What are the Factors Controlling Decision-Making? – The Constructor

Demolition or Refurbishment: Factors that Controls Decision-Making?

The decision to demolish or refurbish a specific building is not a simple task. It requires a trade-off between various objectives and values. The decision is controlled by several factors such as environmental and economic benefits, risk assessment, waste management, and waste recycling. In addition, knowing the materials and their properties in the existing structures is another critical factor that influences decision making.

Demolition or Refurbishment: What are the Factors Controlling Decision-Making?

1. Individual Business Models

Factors related to the individual business models are financial returns and profit margins, reputational implications for developers, end-user requirements, and the right timing for upgrading the existing building.

Commonly, investors require positive financial business cases; otherwise, they are reluctant to carry out refurbishment projects. This is a crucial challenge that may hinder refurbishment projects.

So, it is clear that financial returns have a significant impact on whether to refurbish or demolish a building and construct a new one. Therefore, apart from heritage buildings for which refurbishment is a must, refurbishment and demolition choices should be carefully studied.

The cost assessment of refurbishment or demolition projects is uncertain, subjective, and complex. However, the cost of fixed assets (capital expenditure), cost of goods and services (operational expenses), and value of an investment over time (capital investment appraisal) can be used as a typical criterion to assess refurbishment and demolition projects.

Business Model
Figure-1: Business Model

2. Conditions of the Building

The physical conditions of the building affect the decision-making about demolishing or reusing a specific structure. The building conditions involve risks (unknowns about the building), age (whether the facility meets new standards or not), adaptive flexibility of the building, location, preferred aesthetics of the end-user, and heritage requirements.

Limited data and information about the building or materials used in its construction would make refurbishment an inappropriate choice. The structure’s safety is another crucial factor affecting demolition or refurbishment decision-making. Adequate surveys and tests for risk assessment may not be feasible, and time constraints may not allow that.

Moreover, unexpected safety concerns can arise while carrying out the refurbishment works. This demotivates developers to carry out refurbishment works for the existing building. Most old buildings do not meet applicable codes and standards, making the structures obsolete.

Finally, in earthquake-prone regions, demolishing damaged and aged buildings and then constructing earthquake-resistant buildings according to new codes and standards is a more suitable choice.

Building in a Bad Physical Condition
Figure-1: Building in a Bad Physical Condition

3. Sustainability

The sustainability factor involves the rising importance of environmental sustainability, operational and embodied carbon footprints, waste management and treatment, the health of occupants, and social value implications for surrounding communities.

Rising awareness about the impact of the building sector on climate change and setting targets to reduce carbon emissions have forced investors and developers to consider suitable measures to reduce carbon release. Refurbishment of buildings can be a good choice to minimize emissions due to new construction works.

However, one may argue that operational emissions of the building may not meet the requirements set by the government. This could make demolition a more suitable choice since new technologies and materials can help construct buildings with zero carbon emissions.

Occupants’ social value and well-being should be incorporated into decision-making alongside cost, energy, and carbon indicators. However, some investors have claimed that these factors do not affect their decision-making because of a lack of reliability, comparability, and consistency in metrics and valuation tools in the market. Nonetheless, developers should consider social values while they do large-scale demolition because large subsidies and guaranteed alternative housing are required for the displaced occupants.

Building Sustainability
Figure-3: Building Sustainability


What are the factors that control decision-making regarding demolishing or refurbishing a building?

Several factors influence the decision process of investors and developers, but the most common and major factors are individual business models, physical conditions of the building, and environmental sustainability.

What are the major techniques used for building demolition?

The main building demolition techniques are non-explosive demolition and explosion methods.

What is building refurbishment?

Refurbishment is the improvement process of buildings by cleaning, decorating, re-equipping, and retrofitting parts of the structure with the aim of making it more energy-efficient, sustainable, and meeting the requirements of the occupants and new standards. It also involves renovation, rehabilitation, extension, conversion, and modernization of an existing building.


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